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Unemployment Is Down In Ohio, But Post-Recession Wage Growth Is Unequal

The Kmart store in Springfield has closed. As a result of the store's closure, 68 jobs will be lost.
Wayne Baker
The Kmart store in Springfield has closed. As a result of the store's closure, 68 jobs will be lost.

The state of Ohio released local job and unemployment numbers Tuesday, and the news is looking good for Dayton and the state. In December 2014, the statewide unemployment rate dipped to a seasonally adjusted 4.8 percent, the lowest it’s been since 2001. The greater Dayton area was down to 4.5 percent, almost two percentage points lower than it was at the end of 2013.

Those numbers amount to around 11,000 more people employed in the Dayton Metropolitan Statistical area in December 2014 than a year before, according to initial reports from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The biggest areas of growth for the state in 2014 were manufacturing, leisure and hospitality and professional and business services, while government job growth was tepid.

Big job stories for the Dayton area for 2014 include the arrival of Fuyao, a Chinese automotive glass manufacturer that’s moving into the old GM Moraine plant and planning to add more than 1500 jobs, mostly in production. Earlier this month the company announced a whole new branch intended for the plant that doubled the number of jobs expected. The Procter & Gamble distribution facility near the Dayton International Airport is also hiring for increasing numbers of jobs in distribution and logistics, although many could be temp or part-time. And the The Ohio Tax Credit Authority on Monday approved plans for an expansion for Saia-Burgess, an automotive parts supplier in Vandalia, which plans to add 100 jobs.

Job losses announced over the last couple of months have included closures of big box retailers such as Kmart and JC Penney, stores that have been struggling nationally. As stores and malls serving the middle class decline, malls for the very rich as well as locales serving low-wage workers are doing somewhat better around the country.

Those trends in retail are a close reflection of trends in wages: while job growth has been getting stronger nationally, wage growth has not.

A report out this week from the Economic Policy Institute compares post-Recession income growth for the top one percent of earners to the bottom 99 percent and finds a large portion of total wage increases are going to a small sliver of people. In Ohio from 2009 to 2012, the average income went up 37 percent for the very richest, and increased just 2.3 percent on average for the remaining 99 percent of the population. That leaves the top one percent of earners in Ohio making more than 20 times the average for everyone else. Those changes and trends actually date back a long way, to around 1979, according to the authors of the report. They show that before 1979, periods of rebuilding after recession tended to distribute gains more evenly.

The National Employment Law Project has also noted that the jobs that have returned since the Recession have been disproportionately focused in low-wage industries, with far fewer middle class jobs returning.

The reality of sluggish wage growth has borne itself out over the last year through growing protests against low-wage work and demands for a higher minimum wage.

Lewis Wallace is WYSO's managing editor, substitute host and economics reporter. Follow him @lewispants.